Turkey Encourages a Free-and-Fair Vote in Azerbaijan
By Mevlut Katik: 11/04/05

As Azerbaijan’s closest ally, Turkey has exerted considerable energy to promote a trouble-free parliamentary election on November 6.

Given that elections were the detonators for so-called “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past two years, Azerbaijan’s parliamentary vote has been surrounded by discussion about possible unrest. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Turkish leaders are anxious to see that the elections don’t produce instability. Accordingly, Ankara has sought to cajole President Ilham Aliyev’s administration in Baku into embracing electoral transparency.

Turkish officials started to encourage an open Azerbaijani election long before the start of the campaign. During a speech to the Azerbaijani parliament in late June, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Only those regimes that have made their people relate to their government with love and trust, not fear, have succeeded…In a globalized world, one-sidedness and arbitrary rule is clearly not a solution.”

“We will either be part of a free world, adopting democratic values, or take our place in a darkness that resists change and refuses democracy and human rights,” Erdogan added. “We [Turkey] have chosen the former, and also invite all our friends to walk down this path.”

During a November 1 news conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul sought to reinforce this message. “The November 6 elections in Azerbaijan are very important, and are being monitored by Turkey closely and with interest,” Gul said. “Azerbaijan will be much stronger if the elections are conducted in an orderly and transparent manner. Azerbaijan’s position on the international stage would be strengthened [if transparent and orderly elections are held].”

A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official told EurasiaNet that Ankara has helped Azerbaijani officials implement a recent decree issued by President Aliyev that stipulated that voters’ fingers be marked by ink to prevent multiple voting. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. “Turkey has ... made contributions on the issue of ink to be used for voting,” the official said. Ankara has also facilitated various election monitoring initiatives conducted by the OSCE, Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and NATO, as well as by Turkish non-governmental organizations.

“We [Turkey] would like to see an Azerbaijan that fosters its independence; strengthens its economy; makes progress in the field of institutional reforms; takes steps to integrate with the West; and develops its democracy,” the Foreign Ministry source said.

Aliyev has sought to reassure Ankara that it need not worry about possible disturbances that could complicate the special bilateral relationship between Azerbaijan and Turkey. In an October 31 interview with Turkish journalists, Aliyev suggested that democracy is taking root in Azerbaijan, pointing out that almost four times more candidates are participating in the 2005 parliamentary elections (roughly 1,500) than the number of those seeking seats in the 2000 vote (roughly 400).

The Azerbaijani president also downplayed the possibility of unrest, claiming that opposition forces in Azerbaijan did not enjoy anywhere near the same levels of popularity that anti-government forces in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan did prior to the color revolutions in those countries. “The era of street protests similar to those in Ukraine has come to an end in Azerbaijan long ago,” he said. Aliyev went on to deride the Azerbaijani opposition for adopting the orange for its campaign motif – the same color that was used by supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in carrying out political change in Kyiv in late 2004. The Azerbaijani opposition’s embrace of orange is a “sign of the opposition’s lack of originality,” Aliyev suggested.

Editor’s Note: Mevlut Katik is a London-based journalist and analyst. He is a former BBC correspondent and also worked for The Economist group.

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